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Reforms In Higher Education

It’s time for all those who are involved in drafting the blue print of HEERA to revitalise the thinking of encouraging a conducive environment for promoting quality Education, emphasising autonomy and accountability, and fostering innovation, thereby nudging institutions to move towards world class

The Ministry of Human Resource Development has announced to scrap University Grants Commission (UGC) and All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) and replace it with a new body named the Higher Education Empowerment Regulation Agency (HEERA) to regulate both technical and non-technical institutions. HEERA will thus get rid of overlapping functions and jurisdictions of the UGC and the AICTE. It is also expected to curb irrelevant regulatory provisions and make higher education regulation more effective and result-oriented with greater synergy between the regulator and the institutions. The detailed blueprint of HEERA and its legislation is still being worked out.

In a rapidly globalising world with technology taking center-stage, the higher education sector for a country like India, needs to leverage its huge talent available in its populace to not only change but rather reform the practices on a continuous basis to become relevant in a global setting. The existing laws governing higher education in India needs to be reformed to address these requirements.

Currently, India has a regulatory framework that gives absolute freedom through its governing boards to the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) and the Indian Institutes of Management (IIM) to run higher education programmes while all universities, be it a Government or a non-Government/non-profit society (also referred to as private institutions) controlled, are under various regulations enforced by AICTE or the UGC.

It is time for the Government to streamline regulatory mechanisms in higher education with global setting in mind. It must be understood that Government institutions’ contribution to nation-building must be supplemented by private or non-profit society controlled institutions. Thus, private institutions must play a positive role in nation-building through quality higher education backed with quality research. New HEERA must be sensitive to these aspects.

For the past few years, or rather a decade, concerns have been raised in many quarters about the deteriorating quality of higher education, and the associated command and control-based regulatory mechanisms in place in India. A 2010 circular of AICTE announcing that admissions, curriculum, fee, etc, will be decided or approved by the AICTE only, is a case in point.

This circular was challenged in the Supreme Court and institutions have been functioning since then based on reprieve granted by the apex court. The humongous amount of time and money spent to fight this regulatory order, through a legal recourse and to continue to operate decently, has added to the gross domestic product (through lawyers’ fees) but has hugely brought down the productivity/efficiency of these institutions for no fault of theirs.

This is reflective of the higher education regulatory environment in India. Multiple regulatory control by numerous statutory bodies with their labyrinthine mechanisms have challenged all institutions, except the IITs and the IIMs that are outside the ambit of any regulatory body, preventing innovative and creative environment taking root in higher education institutions. To illustrate, the regulators prescribing area in an institution to be used for toilets shows the level and extent of regulation as also the distrust level.

Such deep regulation’ reflects some flaw in the entire regulation system. The over-regulated environment also provides opportunities to unscrupulous elements to manage things easily, thus seriously compromising the quality of education. In nutshell, the ensuing over regulation has suffocated and paralysed our higher and professional institutions.

Reports of various committees and commissions, including that of Kao committee, Yashpal committee, National Knowledge commission, Hari Gautam committee as well as TSR Subramanian committee have in the past highlighted the deficiencies of regulatory bodies and pointed out the lack of autonomy and freedom given to the higher education institutions, and made recommendations for their growth and qualitative improvements. However, so far nothing substantive has come out of these reports. HEERA seems to be the first call.

All existing Acts/guidelines of UGC and AICTE need to be thoroughly reviewed in the context of educational requirements of present times so that they are at par with institutions at global level. None of the Indian universities figured in the list of top 100 in the world. The best we have currently is IISc Bangalore at 152 in QS World University Rankings and IIT Delhi next at 185. With huge financial support and almost full autonomy to these Government institutions, this is the best we have attained in about 60 years of their existence. With pincer-like grip of regulators stifling autonomy it can be anybody’s guess as to what Indian private institutions can achieve when it comes to global standard.

Institutions like Harvard, Stanford, Kellog, Oxford, MIT, etc earned their status of world class’ not through Government guidelines or regulations but on their own remarkable and time tested policies for quality enrichment. It is high time for Indian higher education to find its proper place at global level and to minimise the outflow of lakhs of Indian students in search of good institutions abroad.

If these issues are not handled then the new regulatory environment under HEERA cannot be said to have improved the higher education environment, rather it may just be changing the problem being handled by one hand to the other. It is time for all those who are involved in drafting the blue print of HEERA to revitalise the very thinking of encouraging a conducive environment for promoting quality education, emphasising autonomy and accountability, and fostering creativity and innovation, thereby nudging institutions to move towards world class.

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Reforms In Higher Education


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